WSJ article on Amazon work culture possibly about governance, not design.

I heard the news, like everyone else. I read the Inside Amazon: Wrestling Big Ideas in a Bruising Workplace. I read many reactions, leading up to the CEO’s response and then Amazon, Our Leadership Principles.

Then I tried something else. I imagined the WSJ article didn’t exist, as if I never heard about it, and went back to reading Amazon’s Our Leadership Principle article, as an outsider hearing about it for the first time. It clearly demands a highly competitive spirit, a strong leadership and ambitious work ethos. Strong leadership, power with responsibility in teams hands. There is nothing evil or cynical by design here.

However, such challenging ethos combined with a lightweight supervision could indeed take surprising if not unexpected turns. It immediately reminded me Philip Zimbardo’s Standord prison experiment. Amazon might or might not be experimenting, but it would seem that good governance did not notice that some high impact behaviour was at play.

If you read WSJ article again, the various quotes of managers seem to point to highly logical communication, often with little or no empathy. A lot of IQ but perhaps less show of EQ. It’s not surprising that a high profile company such as Amazon would be chided for ignoring EQ in their extensive metrics. If that were intentional, then it would be a design problem.

So, it seems that, whether intentional or not, governance at Amazon did not include social accountability of the kinds that modern society expects. This has been an interesting learning chance, hopefully for them too.

Can and should an organisation demand high IQ without a balancing level of EQ, from its leaders?